The weird story of the South African missile very similar to the ramjet-powered version of the Russian R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile

The weird story of the South African missile very similar to the ramjet-powered version of the Russian R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile

By Tom Cooper
Jun 3 2021
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Most likely, this was a sheer accident. Or – and considering a number of what could only be described as ‘South African adaptations of Soviet designs’ – perhaps it was none….?

Recent work on the project War of Intervention in Angola, Volume 4 (that as for War of Intervention in Angola, Volumes from 1-3 will be published by Helion & Company), prompted me into doing ‘at least the bare minimum’ of research into the ‘missile gap’ the South African Air Force (SAAF) experienced when encountering (Cuban-flown) MiG-23MLs over southern Angola of summer 1987.

Essentially, SAAF’s Mirage F.1CZ- and F.1AZ-pilots found themselves outrun, outturned, and outgunned by MiG-23MLs tooting that little ‘poison dwarf’ called the R-60MK (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘AA-8 Aphid’).

Now, by side of this leading into ‘digging’ about nearly everything from Kukri V.1 up to V.3S Snake… but, eventually I stumbled into the following.

Back in 1986, the Defence Research and Development Council of South Africa launched the research and development of a ramjet-powered missile – apparently with intention of this leading to a medium-range air-to-air missile, or at least a similar surface-to-air missile.

As far as I know, the first related boosters (calibre 127mm) were tested already in 1988, followed by bigger ones (calibre 230mm).

What’s of particular interest is the aerodynamic design: what emerged in period 1988-1992 was a vehicle quite similar to the design of the (ramjet-powered) Soviet-made 3M9 missile from the 2K12 Kub (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘SA-6 Gainful’) surface-to-air system. As far as I know, three vehicles powered by 127mm boosters were tested in 1992, and the first solid-propelled prototype flew in 1994.

One of these should’ve reached a speed of Mach 2.3.

…as far as I know, this missile never received any kind of a designation: apparently, the project was cancelled either already in 1994, or ‘shortly later’…

Interestingly, and ‘roughly around the same time’, the Russians then showed their own, and very similar design – the K-77PD, i.e. a ramjet-powered version of the R-77 medium-range air-to-air missile.

Most likely, this was a sheer accident. Or – and considering a number of what could only be described as ‘South African adaptations of Soviet designs‘ – perhaps it was none….?

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: Unknown


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Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper, from Austria, is a military-aviation journalist and historian. Following a career in a worldwide transportation business — in which, during his extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, he established excellent contacts — he moved into writing. An earlier fascination with post-Second World War military aviation has narrowed to focus on smaller air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives of material. Concentrating primarily on air warfare that has previously received scant attention, he specializes in investigative research on little-known African and Arab air forces, as well as the Iranian Air Force. Cooper has published 21 books — including the unique Arab MiGs' series, which examines the deployment and service history of major Arab air forces in conflicts with Israel — as well as over 200 articles on related topics, providing a window into a number of previously unexamined yet fascinating conflicts and relevant developments.

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